June 26, 2006
Scientists Seek to Spy on World’s Fish
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO (Reuters) - Thousands of marine animals could be tracked under a $150 million project to understand threats to life in the oceans with technology perfected for supermarket checkouts, scientists said on Monday.
Under the scheme, scientists would implant electronic tags into creatures such as salmon, tuna, sharks, sturgeon, penguins or polar bears to register their movements via acoustic receivers on the floors of the oceans or via satellite.
"Today we know less about our marine life -- how these animals live, where they go -- than we know about the back side of the moon," said Ron O'Dor, head of the Ocean Tracking Network to be set up at Dalhousie University in Canada.
Tagging of marine life is now limited to regional projects. The scheme could give insights into wider ocean migrations and the impacts of overfishing or climate change, helping governments manage dwindling stocks.
Some 35 scientists from around the world will meet in Halifax, Canada, from June 27-30 to launch the network, which is seeking funds to set up listening station arrays in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and the Mediterranean sea.
The scientists are applying for $32 million from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation to gain tracking technology. That funding is a condition to unlock a total $150 million for the six-year project from other donors around the world.
The implants vary from the size of an almond to an AA battery. When fish pass an array, the implants set off a signal similar to a bar code scanner in a supermarket. Bigger implants can transmit via satellite from creatures that often surface.
Scientists have only recently discovered the vast distances swum by many species. Tuna can criss-cross the Pacific, great white sharks swim from Africa to Australia and turtles from Central America have been found off Easter Island.
The scheme would build on an existing 1,750 km (1,087 miles) acoustic array on the seabed from Oregon to Alaska that has helped scientists track salmon migrating from U.S. and Canadian rivers.
Other scientists have surgically implanted bigger devices on species including whales, tuna, sturgeon, halibut and sharks.
"Part of the beauty of the system is that it not only records the pathways of the animals but measures the temperature," O'Dor told Reuters. "We can build up a record of climate change."
Fish migrations may already be shifting in response to a warming of the oceans widely blamed on a build-up of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. Salmon have been caught north of both Canada and Alaska, far from their normal ranges.